HRW urges UN to sanction Yemen rebels over oil tanker

Human Rights Watch calls on UN Security Council to slap Iran-backed Huthi rebels with additional sanctions unless they provide UN experts access to oil tanker moored off Yemen coast and in danger of leaking.

CAIRO - A leading international rights group on Monday called on the UN Security Council to slap Yemen’s Iran-backed Huthi rebels with additional sanctions unless they provide UN experts access to an oil tanker moored off the coast of Yemen and in danger of leaking.

The FSO Safer is loaded with 1.1 million barrels of crude. The Huthi rebels, who control the area, have denied UN inspectors access to the vessel.

The UN warned earlier this month of an environmental, economic and humanitarian catastrophe from the ship, which hasn’t been maintained for over five years.

Human Rights Watch says the impact of an oil spill on livelihoods, access to water and food, and on fuel prices could significantly exacerbate Yemen’s humanitarian crisis. An oil spill could also shut down the port of Hodeida, a lifeline for millions of Yemenis who depend on commercial imports and humanitarian aid.

The tanker “threatens to destroy entire ecosystems and demolish the livelihoods of millions of people already suffering from Yemen’s war,” said Gerry Simpson, associate crisis and conflict director at HRW.

Internal documents obtained by The Associated Press last month show that seawater has entered the engine compartment of the tanker, causing damage to pipes and increasing the risk of sinking. Rust has covered parts of the tanker and the inert gas that prevents the tanks from gathering inflammable gases, has leaked out. Experts say maintenance is no longer possible because the damage to the ship is irreversible, according to an AP report June 26.

The Huthis have signaled they would approve a UN mission to the ship, but so far, that hasn't happened. HRW also urged Iran to encourage the rebels to cooperate.

The rebels control western Yemen’s Red Sea port of Ras Issa, located 6 kilometres (3.7 miles) from where the FSO Safer has been moored since the 1980s. They are at war with the internationally recognized government, which is backed by a Saudi-led coalition and the US.

The Japanese-built tanker was sold to the Yemeni government in 1980s to store up to 3 million barrels pumped from oil fields in Marib province before it was exported. The ship is 360 meters (1,181 feet) long with 34 storage tanks.